National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon will arrive here on Saturday, as the Prime Minister's Special Envoy, armed with the mandate to build on the recent positive up-swing in relations between India and China and explore how the two countries can broaden their relationship.
On Monday afternoon, Mr. Menon will hold talks with Premier Wen Jiabao in the Chinese leader's secluded Zhongnanhai compound. The agenda, officials on both sides said, would be “broad” and not limited to specific issues that have troubled the relationship. Instead, the focus will be on exploring how the two countries could make the most of the recent positive momentum, to deepen engagement in a number of areas as well as make the relationship less vulnerable to specific issues of disagreement.
Following a year of renewed strains, with a number of reports last year of incursions by Chinese troops into disputed areas and a spate of trade quarrels, ties warmed in 2010, buoyed by cooperation on climate change and as a result of a series of high-profile visits to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties. Mr. Menon's trip comes just one month after President Pratibha Patil's state visit, which, officials said, helped improve the atmosphere.
During his three-day visit, the NSA will also meet Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and State Councillor Dai Bingguo, his counterpart in the negotiations on the long-running border dispute, over which talks have made little progress. Mr. Menon, who is the Special Representative on the border talks, will, however, officially be visiting Beijing donning the hat of the Prime Minister's Special Envoy. The reason, officials said, was to underscore that the visit would transcend the border issue and look at the relationship as a whole.Since taking over as NSA in January, Mr. Menon has already met China's two most important diplomats. In February, he met Mr. Yang along the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, and in April, held talks with Mr. Dai in Brasilia, during the BRIC summit.
Mr. Menon, who has vast experience in China, serving as Ambassador here, as well as fluent command over Mandarin, is highly regarded by Chinese officials and analysts. In interviews, they said his appointment as NSA and as Special Representative would exert a positive influence on the development of bilateral relations.
“There's no question that Mr. Menon's background and experience in China will greatly help the relationship,” said Ma Jiali, a senior scholar at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, who advises the government on its South Asia policy. “He understands China, Chinese perceptions, as well as the culture. This will certainly be helpful.”
Mr. Ma said the quick succession of three high-level visits — External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna was in Beijing in April, less than two months before the presidential visit — would help set the tone for improved atmospherics in the coming year.
“Last year, the climate was clearly not good,” he said. “More visits this year means the atmosphere is better, and there are more opportunities to exchange views and reach a consensus on difficult issues.”